Employees use GIS to support online applications, calculators, and dashboards to improve communication, reliability, and safety.
Not so long ago, line foreman Ryan Corey would retrieve a thick, dusty binder out of the backseat of his truck if he needed to consult a system map in the field.
Drive a few miles down the road, out of range of the first binder, and Corey would have to pull another binder out of the backseat.
Finding dusty binders in the backseat all changed in 2016, when Umatilla Electric Cooperative (UEC) fully converted to an electronic mapping of its system that line workers and other staff could access on tablets and other mobile devices while on the go.
"This has changed our world," Corey said. "It's made our lives simpler and more efficient."
Gone are the days of paper map books and wall maps showing switch positions with red and green pushpins at device locations across the system. These days, employees at the 10,600-member cooperative use a geographic information system (GIS) to support online applications, calculators, and dashboards to improve communication, reliability, and safety.
These applications are used on both mobile devices and desktop computers. UEC uses the GIS to collect and report on real-time information including interruption reports, inspection statuses, vegetation management, and work order statistics to name a few. This data is used for planning, permitting, and viewing historical records.
"It's not just a map," Corey said. "It has wire sizes, feeder numbers, transformer sizes, fuse sizes, pole numbers, meter numbers, customer names, and phone numbers — just about everything we need to know."
Everything is going digital at UEC. Instead of filling out paper interruption reports that get passed around the office and sometimes lost in the shuffle, linemen now submit online surveys that are automatically emailed to necessary personnel based on specific queries. Linemen can attach photos, use talk-to-text, and record details about outages on their iPads. The digital forms and surveys are accessible offline, meaning linemen can fill them out in the most rural areas of UEC's system and submit them when they have service again.
UEC uses Esri's Survey123 application and Integromat, an advanced online automation platform, to allow for the creation — from the field — of PDF reports and automated emails to necessary staff. If the linemen tag the interruption as customer-caused, then an email will be automatically sent to the administrative office to process insurance claims. If the report indicates materials added or removed, the email will be sent to the other necessary departments to ensure plant and inventory are updated and accounted for appropriately.
Interruption data from the reports, in addition to data from Milsoft's outage management system (OMS), can be analyzed back at the office to find common outage causes and underperforming feeders to support reliability-based system improvement projects. In 2021, UEC will be working on a real-time historical outage dashboard from data collected in the interruption reports. Having the data available in a database will allow employees to quickly query interruption reports and view historical records without panning through drawers of paper or PDFs in a folder.
Applications such as Esri GIS and Milsoft OMS are also used for vegetation planning, system inspections, and maintenance prioritization. Dusty Grogan, operations superintendent, uses Esri's ArcGIS Collector to tag conductors that may have fast or slow growing vegetation nearby. The collected data can be used to automatically calculate how many runs of line are in trees within specific regions and is used to create bid contracts that target specific sections of line instead of whole circuits. Having this data at UEC's fingertips assists with Department of Interior permitting and North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) reporting.
During vegetation inspections or large wind events, linemen and servicemen are asked to add points on an online map in ArcGIS Collector with information about the location. If it is high priority, they can flag it so it receives immediate attention. Contractors then use the vegetation management maps in ArcGIS Collector to target specific locations and mark the locations as complete when finished. These apps allow UEC to track contractor progress and provide real-time reports. The vegetation management maps proved useful during a large windstorm in May when nearly one-half of UEC's membership was without power.
The windstorm saw peak gusts hit upwards of 75 mph, and heavy winds knocked down massive trees and snapped power poles throughout the region. Crews worked day and night for nearly a week to respond to more than a 100 locations. During this time, crews used the maps in ArcGIS Collector to log high-priority vegetation management locations. This allowed operations to make the most of their time by visualizing and targeting high priority areas on the map to get the membership back on as soon as possible.
Back in the office, Dustin Earls Sr., project engineer, uses a customized ArcGIS Online dashboard to track customer contacts, estimates, and work order statistics. At the initial contact with a member, the inquiry is logged into a database that is linked to the cooperative's GIS. Distribution designers reference this database when receiving subsequent calls from members, so they can forward the calls to the designer working on the project or review the customers' logged information to answer questions.
Throughout the life of the work order or construction packages, all the milestone dates and attributes such as job type, rate schedule, and nature of work are captured in the GIS database and tracked on the UEC personnel-facing dashboard. This allows management to quickly assess the amount and type of work done in an area, by what designer, and when. These metrics can be quickly filtered by date range or geographic area. The dashboard has been a heavily used tool by UEC to quickly assess member-generated work requests and resources to improve overall service to the members in UEC.
With the growth UEC is seeing on its system, it has become one of the fastest-growing electric cooperatives in the United States in kilowatt-hours sold. At the same time, the utility has expanded efforts to upgrade its 2300 miles of energized lines to improve reliability and meet rising demands across all customer classes.
As UEC sees no let-up in the foreseeable future in expanding and upgrading its system, the digital transformation will continue to play a crucial role. To Grogan, the line superintendent, it's difficult to imagine moving forward without electronic mapping and all its benefits, "It's improved our industry and cooperative by leaps and bounds."